Sep 29, 2013; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne (87) runs away from defenders after making a catch in the second quarter of their game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

Colts Authority Charting Project: Receiving on Third Down

During the 2014 offseason, Colts Authority is making a concentrated effort to have a complex understanding of as many of the players on the roster as possible. It’s all a part of the Colts Authority Charting Project, an intentional effort to chart as many statistical and strategical details about the team as we can. In that vein, we have several film-review series going thoughout the next few months. You can see all of the 2014 film review pieces at the CA Charting Project page.

We hope you will enjoy the series, and if you have any requests (either in specific players or different statistics you’d like to see charted), please let us know in the comments or on Twitter at @ColtsAuth_Kyle and @ColtsAuthority using #CAchartingproject.

For our third down series this offseason, we’ve broken up into two main parts, rushing and passing. We already looked at running the ball, and now we are moving on to the passing game. However, this section will be split up into several subsections. Today we look at the Colts’ receivers, and the difference between them. Next week we’ll do an off-shoot piece on NFL quarterbacks as a whole, as we did last year, which will lead into an in-depth piece on Luck’s 2013 and the team’s passing trends.

Today, however, we just look at the Colts receivers.

To start, here is the chart of third down success rates for each of the Colts who were targeted through the air at some point during this year on third down. Note that the overall success rate includes both the successful throws to said receiver as well as the penalties caused by the receiver that resulted in a third down.


A few notes before we expand this look:

  • T.Y. Hilton and Reggie Wayne leading the way with over 50 percent success rates. Is anybody surprised?
  • On the other side, Heyward Bey had the worst success rate for a receiver. Again, surprised?
  • The way the receivers were used as compared to the running backs on third down is startling. When a wide receiver caught a ball on third down, they earned a first down on nearly 82 percent of the time. When a running back caught a pass, they picked up the first down less than 39 percent of the time. This shouldn’t be surprising to anybody, with backs being used more as safety valves, but there are the numbers.
  • Coby Fleener’s success rate sticks out to me on first glance. It would seem that a tight end should have a higher success rate, with their possession nature. We’ll have to flesh that out in a minute.
  • For the smaller numbers, it’s really too small of a sample size to mean much. Again, that’s why Fleener and Heyward-Bey, who each had a decent number of targets, really stick out among the lower rates.
  • Nobody was even close to Hilton and Wayne’s numbers, which is why it’s hard to put much significance into it, but Whalen saw a lot of targets on third down, and his percentage was notably better than any of the other depth wide receivers. Whalen’s skill set as a possession receiver is one that the Colts are low on, which is why I currently have him making the roster over LaVon Brazill.

Now let’s compare these numbers to the rest of the league. To do this, I charted each of the 179 players who saw 10 or more targets on third down, then separated them by position.

Let’s start with wide receivers. There were 112 receivers to have at least 10 targets. Since that’s a really big table to include in this article, here are all of the receivers with at least 35 targets.


A few notes on wide receivers:

  • Overall, the average success rate for receivers was 44.8 percent. So, all of the Colts receivers outside of Hilton/Wayne were below average.
  • Reggie Wayne landed at 23rd out of 112 receivers. Just 32 of the 112 receivers had a success rate of at least 50 percent. I’d say that’s a good goal to have.
  • Hilton increased his third-down success rate from 42.3 percent in 2012 to over 53 percent in 2013. He also increased his targets by 50 percent. It all fits in with him improving at his intermediate/possession game to go along with the ever-present deep threat.
  • New Colts receiver Hakeem Nicks was just about average, ranking 63rd with a success rate of 43.3%. Nicks did have a fairly high Y/A when targeted, having created some big plays on third down. His Y/A of 9.29 would have been higher than any Colt but Da’Rick Rogers last year, and ranked 21st out of 112 league-wide receivers.

On to the tight ends!


  • For Fleener, it turns out that his low success rate was in fact, very low for a tight end. The average success rate for the tight ends that I charted was 46.1 percent, slightly higher than the 44.8% success rate for wide receivers.
  • Dwayne Allen, FWIW, had a success rate of 46.7 percent last year on 15 targets.

It seems that a big increase in usage on third downs wasn’t helpful for Fleener’s efficiency. He’s not the kind of player who dominates a matchup on his own, you have to scheme it for him. Hamilton’s schemes weren’t always helpful for Fleener. There were multiple quick outs on third down for Fleener, plays that seemed doomed before the ball was even snapped. Most of my angst over routes not reaching the first down marker last year came on plays designed for Fleener.

This explains it well:





RBThirdDowns10None of the Colts’ individual backs had enough targets to really be significant in comparison. But one thing is interesting: The average success rate for running backs I tracked was 31.8 percent. The Colts’ success rate for running backs as a team was 39 percent. They shouldn’t be the most targeted players on third downs, but I did like some of the things the Colts did with their backs in short-yardage situations.



Kyle J. Rodriguez

About Kyle J. Rodriguez

A film and numbers guru, Kyle writes about the NFL and the Indianapolis Colts for Bleacher Report, Draft Mecca and The Football Educator, and is a co-founder and associate editor of Colts Authority. Kyle also is a high school sports reporter for the MLive Media Group in Michigan, covering high school sports across the state.